One issue that crops up with intersecting sets of linestrings is that there is a tension between increasing performance and decreasing memory use. The fastest way should be to indexing individual line segments. However, this implies creating a new memory structure for each line segment, which can be both time and memory intensive. The most memory-effective structure is of course to leave the original linestrings undivided, but this does not provide good performance.
It seemed to me that there must be an intermediate between these two extremes. After some thought I came up with the idea that I called "monotone chains". A monotone chain is a string of line segments which are monotonic in both X and Y directions. This structure has some nice properties:
- Monotone chains cannot self-intersect
- Two monotone chains intersect in at most one connected set of line segments.
- The envelopes of any two subsequences of a monotone chain are interior-disjoint. This means that the envelopes of successive bisections of the chain form a "pyramid" of envelopes. In turn, this allows comparing two chains for intersection can be carried out using a binary search technique using the two envelope pyramids.
I was pretty pleased with my "discovery", and used it to good effect in JTS. For quite a while I was unaware of any prior use of this technique, but recently I came across a reference to a paper by Warren Burton in 1977 which apparently discusses this technique. I was led to this by the paper on Whirlpool by Nick Chrisman et al., which used this technique under the name "monotone sections".
It doesn't come as too much of a surprise that such a simple and useful technique has been used before, but what I do find a bit surprising is how little this technique is discussed in computational geometry literature. I presume the reason for this is that the technique is too simple to be of continuing interest to academics, while it is too special-purpose to be worth presenting to students. There's a dearth of computational geometry literature directed at the true practitioner - which probably indicates how few practitioners there are!
Burton, Warren 1977: Representation of many-sided polygons and polygonal lines for rapid processing, Communications ACM, vol. 20, no.3.
Chrisman, N.R., Dougenik, J.A. and White, D. 1992: Lessons for the design of polygon overlay processing from the Odyssey Whirlpool algorithm, Proc. 5th Int. Symp. on Spatial Data Handling, 2, 401-410.